November 16, 2018

‘Concern,’ not ‘Panic’ over anti-Semitism: Another response to David Bernstein

David Bernstein wrote a response to my piece criticizing his Washington Post op-ed for overstating the Jewish community’s level of panic over recent anti-semitic attacks.

David– I feel like we should be on a first name basis at this point, really– dials back his overstated original premise to say that while Jews aren’t greatly panicked, they are somewhat panicked.

First, Eshman claims that American Jews aren’t “panicking” because they haven’t closed Jewish schools, turned Jewish institutions into armed camps or turned in their kippahs. True, but there are levels of panic. Many Jews have withdrawn their children from Jewish Community Center preschools, so much so that some JCCs are undertaking emergency fundraising campaigns to make up for the lost revenue.

 A few families pulling their kids from JCCs may be a sign of panic, or more likely a sign that given all the options, why ask for trouble?  But OK, if we’re talking “levels of panic” then fine.  Maybe David and I can agree on a number between 1 and 10, 1 being “couldn’t care less” and 10 being “grab the passports.”  I say we’re at a 4, which is just above a 3 — “Did that guy just say ‘Jew?'”– and below a 5, which is, “Don’t be a shmuck, take off the chai necklace.”

Quickly, then, on three of David’s other points:

First, I agree 100 percent with David’s comment that neither Steve Bannon (nor Donald Trump) are themselves anti-semites: I never suggested that.  I also agree with David when he writes, “The comments section [of], by contrast, is an unmoderated sewer that does contain a great deal of anti-Semitism. Is that a matter of concern? Sure.”

I wrote about that months ago in a column. “Steve Bannon, Drain the Swamp,” which called on the president’s chief advisor to take responsibility for the sewer he created.  The fact that he hasn’t doesn’t mean he’s an anti-semite, just a cynical threat to democracy.

Second, David is still wrong that many or most Jewish leaders are concerned about Muslim immigration to America.  He cites (but doesn’t link to) a  “2008 American Jewish Congress report,” but most Jewish leaders aren’t aware the American Jewish Congress even exists, much less produces “reports.” If there is a concern,  it is not over Muslim immigration, but Muslim American integration. We cannot make the mistake Western European countries made of isolating or demonizing Muslim immigrants, or of turning a blind eye to the extremists among them.  I bet David and I agree on this.

Finally, I’m happy David quoted the excellent piece we ran by David Lehrer, former regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.  Lehrer calls for a measure of concern, not panic — my point exactly.  Is it an “apology for anti-semitism” as David claims, or a thoughtful, non-hysterical explanation without a political agenda?  I think the latter.

Bottom line: the Jewish communal response to the increase in anti-semitism has been concern and judicious action, not panic.  To some extent and other sites have served to incubate or reaffirm alt-right anti-semitism.  Some Jewish groups, notably the ADL, have taken taken these sites to task.  They have also criticized the President on specific occasions when he has not been clear or forthright in condemning hate speech or actions, or when he has seemed to wink at it himself.  No one is running around like a chicken with its head cut off. And no one is chicken.